Sunday, March 25, 2012

 Spicy Dried-Plum Cake

كيكة العنجاص المجفف

The delightful prune, or dried plum as some marketers would prefer to call it thee days, is sweet and sour and chewy in texture, it is fun to eat, nutritious, and as with all dried fruits, available year round. 

To people in the ancient Near East, the prune was food fit for the gods, in whose lavish meals the prune had its cherished place. Its health benefits did not escape their attention either. Some ancient cuneiform clay tablets dealing with the Assyrian plant drugs do include the prune, and the recommendation was to eat it with butter and honey. Fast forward to the present -- We are hearing some very good prune-news these days, the most exciting of which is that it tops the list of foods rich with antioxidants and that eating ten of them a day, can keep osteoporosis at bay. It cannot get any better of course since unlike most medications prescribed for osteoporosis, prunes have no adverse effects - keeping one ‘regular’ surely should not be counted as one.

Besides eating it off hand as a snack, the prune is quite delicious cooked, in sweet and savory dishes. Here is a recipe for a scrumptious prune cake. And by the way, for the record, the first cakes in history were baked in the ovens of the Sumerians in ancient Iraq more than 5,000 years ago. We know this from some excavated records, such as the proverb in which the husband (?) protests, “In my budget there is no (place for any) one to bake cakes!” Or when they brag about the superiority of their cuisine as they criticize the way the Bedouin of the western desert took their food, they said that if you gave them flour, eggs and honey for a cake they would not know what to do with them. Besides, some cuneiform texts even give the proportions in which the ingredients were to be mixed for fruit cakes made to go to the temple and the palace.

1½ cups (10 ounces) dried prunes
1¼ cups brewed tea, or water with a tea bag

½ cup oil
1½ cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla

2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut (optional)  
1 cup walnuts, halved or broken, for the bottom of the pan
 Preheat oven 360°F

Put prunes and tea (or water and tea bag) in a small pot. Bring to a quick boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes, or until prunes soften, but not mushy. Drain the prunes, but reserve the drained liquid. Let them cool off to room temperature. Cut the drained prunes into small pieces, and add enough cold water to liquid to make it measure 2/3 cup. Set aside. 

In a big bowl, put oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla, and beat for 2 minutes. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and coconut if use. Stir the flour mix into the egg mix, in two batches alternately with the measured prune liquid. Stir in the prunes. Grease and flour a 10-cup capacity ring pan, or a large loaf pan, and shake off excess flour. Spread the walnuts in the bottom of the pan, and pour the batter on top of the nuts. Bake the cake for 40-50 minutes, or until surface feels firm to the touch. Let it stand for 10 minutes and then invert it on a cooling rack.

When completely cool, dress the cake with this delicious icing:

1 cup packed, brown sugar
½ cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons butter
1½ teaspoons rose water or vanilla
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted 

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cream, butter, and rose water or vanilla. Bring to a boil, on medium heat, stirring to allow sugar to dissolve. Boil gently for about 4 minutes. Let it cool off to room temperature, and then stir in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. It should be neither too thick nor runny in consistency. Ice the cake with it immediately and decorate the top with some walnut halves, if you wish. Chill cake for about an hour and serve. 

( (Makes 16 slices)

(Recipe adapted from my cookbook Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine). See also  a variation on this cake made with dates, and filled with rose-water scented whipped cream. 

Photo Nawal Nasrallah


  1. I made this cake yesterday, ate some of it today and was totally pleased. I used two loaf pans rather than one round tube pan as suggested. I baked them at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, for 40 minutes, as suggested, and allowed them to cool before covering with the frosting.

    The frosting recipe was adequate for two loaf shapes, and it is delicious, (an overworked word for food but appropriate here.) My favorite birthday cake as a child was a vanilla cake with caramel frosting. I also love spice cake. This recipe combines the two in a wonderful way. I didn't have enough prunes for the recipe so I added some dried apricots. Splendid addition!

  2. thank you for this important site, i am one of the editors at, we are an independent digital magazine about Everything Iraqi, and we would love to feature your work. Please get in touch at shakomako(at)gmail(dot)com .. thanks, A>

  3. Why do you add the tea to the prunes? I have never heard of that kind of thing before. I started to make your icing and so far, it tastes delish!

  4. I add tea to the cake because I found that it enhances the flavor and color of the cake. I think it adds more depth to the prunes' taste. I adore black tea, anyway, and I think it is unfairly overlooked in making cakes, cookies, and ice creams.